Every-so-often we’d take our kids bowling for family night. In my culture, that’s a long-held tradition of dedicating one night a week to spend as a family. On these bowling adventures, we always enjoyed getting a plate of nachos, a chili dog, and a basket of french fries. The food was never good. In fact, it was awful. But, to spend time with family always seemed to make up for terrible food. Mediocre nachos just taste better when you're giggling.
Surrounded by bad food and good company, we’d spend the next hour or two cheering each other on while competing for the highest score.
By this point in his life, Mitch wasn’t strong enough to hold a bowling ball, so family members helped by positioning the ball on an adaptive bowling ramp. Mitch smiled as he squinted his eyes and slightly moved the ramp at just the right angle. Then, softly, he’d push the ball down the ramp, and it would hurl down the lane. When he’d get a strike, Mitch would chuckle as I’d blend sports terminology. “Great! You got a goal!” or, “Nice touchdown, son.” Mitch and I shared a pocket full of inside jokes that always made us smile.
On this occasion, Natalie’s sister and her family joined our bowling adventure. Mitchell’s closest cousin, Hunter, was always by his side, cheering him on – both bowling and in life. At one point, Wyatt placed his hand on Mitchell’s back and said, “Nice job, Mitch!” At this moment, I thanked my Father for the gift of family and friends. I was especially thankful Mitch had a loving circle of his own. Mitch was blessed with genuine friends.
Just today I had lunch with a dear friend and colleague. He’s had a blessed career, and I have admired his desire to serve others with his good fortune. About two years ago, however, he experienced a tremendous personal hardship that broke his heart and shook his soul. During his darkest hours, I remember praying fervently that he would find a measure of peace each day as he learned to walk his own journey with grief. As we were catching up on each other’s lives, he shared something a friend told him during a moment of darkness, and I learned a beautiful lesson. His friend said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I don’t know how to help … but I know how to be a friend.”
When I heard that tender phrase, I was overwhelmed by its power and simplicity. It’s another way of saying, “I want you to know I care.”
Those are beautiful, healing words: “I don’t know how to help, but I know how to be a friend.” It acknowledges the uniquely difficult journey of the sufferer while offering a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear, and an understanding heart.
Heaven is never so close as when we’re with loving family and friends. And when someone is going through hell, we can bring a little piece of heaven into their lives by simply being a loving friend.
So, when I look back on this tender moment with little Mitch surrounded by kids who didn’t know what to do, but knew how to be a friend, I’m reminded of the supernal goodness of children.
I cherish this memory.
When I feel grief cast its shadow on my soul, I scoop into my pocket of cherished memories and pull out little gems, like this moment. They fill my heart with gratitude, meaning, and purpose – which, combined, serve as a lamp unto my feet when the path grows especially dark. Today I was reminded of another gem to serve a broken heart: that to be a friend is one of heaven’s healing arts.